a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Because of my limited Hebrew skills I’m limited in the classes that I can take at Pardes. So instead of pouring over a line in a tractate of Talmud word by word with a Hebrew/English dictionary, I get to spend my morning sessions talking about the Matriarchs and Patriarchs of Judaism (and I would argue Christianity and possibly Islam, though in Islam the story shifts a bit in terms of whose story is told and whose is not, which we could say is problematic in Judaism and Jewish text as a whole, but that’s another day and another blog).

So Patriarchs.

We’ve been studying the story of Abraham and we have come upon the Akedah, which some Jewish scholars argue is the pivotal narrative of this idea of trust/faith in Gd because to our modern ears (and likely to the ears of Abraham) the idea of sacrificing ones child just because Gd says so is, well, absurd. And this is a point that I will stick firmly at, no matter what. And that’s fine because, Jewish.

But what I found to be incredibly interesting today was from a Rabbinic Midrash from the 2nd century that sounded very much like Christianity. Of course when I read it in chevruta I didn’t know it was from the 2nd century, but I guessed it probably was. And what I find interesting and a benefit to being not just a convert to Judaism, but someone who is and was exposed to other faith traditions is that I saw it right away. Because my chevruta also had exposure and learning of other faith traditions, they saw it too – which was a relief. So it got me wondering about how not only the monotheistic religions influenced one another, but specifically how the early Christians influenced Judaism (and possibly vice versa, but I don’t think this as much).

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I posted on FB earlier this week that Jerusalem has been a much welcomed (albeit slightly guilt-ridden) respite from the continuous killing of black bodies in the U.S. And while I would’ve loved to join friends across the States in protest, marches and demonstrations, the realities of the white “progressiveness” of the PNW would’ve inevitably irritated me. Just as many well-meaning posts on FB have irritated me this past week, the past months, the past three years of BLM (and frankly, longer). So, it was a sigh of relief to be here in Israel away from all of the drama.

And yet, I’m not.

I’m studying in a land and place that has been steeped with racial and ethnic drama since Torah times (as I’m learning by pouring over the first few chapters of בְּרֵאשִׁית and שְׁמוֹת at Pardes). We could say that the Jewish people have always been on the receiving end of hatred. And here I am. A black Jew studying about my Jewish history in a land where I can honestly walk around quite invisibly.

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13603223_10208786022380523_4679016779557525279_oMy first Shabbat in Jerusalem and I’m alone on purpose.

I attended a Minyan at the recommendation of a friend. The room was packed – standing room only. I felt a bit out of place and the Hebrew in the siddur and around me was overwhelming and intimidating. But the רוח ruach, the spirit, of the room helped to slough off my anxiety and I allowed the melodies to penetrate my ear and stir an awakening I’ve been craving for so long in my soul.

I blinked back tears of … happiness? sadness? longing? spirit? joy? pain ?


I needed this Shabbat alone to take in and absorb it all.

I posted this Facebook entry and photo last night after returning from Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Tzion last night. To say that the service was good is to put it lightly. It was spiritually overwhelming and just what I needed.

I’m in a country whose language confounds me. Granted, I never did put much effort into learning it, which I hope to change in the coming weeks, months, years. I attended a service that was entirely in Hebrew with a siddur entirely in Hebrew (thank goodness I brought my own). But I didn’t need the transliterations or the translations for the niggun to have its effect on me and my spirit. And by the time we got to Yedid Nefesh (chanted in the melody of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen) I literally had to fight back tears.

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Travel bLog-Entry #2 Jerusalem

Posted on: July 7, 2016

I’ve been staying in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem with a friend I met when I worked in the Jewish non-profit sector. We’re sharing an apartment with three lovely cats, one who is a teeny kitten named Oreo who loves to play with my braids (and everything else, because kittens).

Yesterday I woke up fairly early, turned down an invitation from my friend to join her at the Kotel with Women of the Wall (I promised my wife and mother I’d stay out of mischief), and set out to explore. Starting with food.

When I settled into Tmol Shilshom Cafe a wave of familiarity washed over me, I’d been here before – Five years ago when I was in Israel! Instead of eating inside the small and friendly cafe, I ate outdoors shaded from the hot morning sun by an awning. An Israeli group of friends smoked and drank coffee behind me, students from the UK were across from me and a man wearing a kippah sporting long payot smoked cigarettes while working on his laptop. The service was long and it allowed me to just sit and enjoy the accents around me, the sound of the street below and start to settle myself in the pace of Jerusalem life.

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Welcome to my Travel bLog!

It seems crazy to think that I’m on the first leg of my trip to Israel. I barely slept last night between the street fire works, the dog, anxious nerves I’d say that I probably got in a solid two hours of sleep. Thank G-d I do my best sleeping on airplanes.

I’m headed to JFK for a short layover and then to Helsinki for an 11 hour lay over, which I’m super jazzed about. I found this website (thanks, Google) and while it’s not a perfect itinerary, it’s not a bad one either and it allows me to see several aspects of Helsinki in the most amount of time.

If you’ve been to Helsinki and have a place that I absolutely must visit, please let me know!


In FIVE DAYS I will be boarding a flight to Israel to spend three weeks at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies for their Summer Learning Intensive.

© Erika Davis

© Erika Davis

I cannot begin to explain to ya’ll how excited I am about this endeavor. I’m thrilled to be doing some serious Jewish learning. I’m excited about living in the Holy Land for three weeks. I’m excited about representing Jews of Color. And I’m excited about bringing everything that I’ll glean back to my work as a Jewish Diversity activist and advocate.

Throughout my Go Fund Me campaign I’ve been using the word “investment” rather than “donation” and it’s for a specific reason. There are many amazing and worthy causes on the Go Fund Me platform. And asking for money of friends and strangers is often awkward. I thought long and hard about if it was the right thing to do and in the end, I knew that it was because my friends, my family, my community believes in me and the work that I do. Therefore, they, you, weren’t making a donation, you’re investing in me. Saying that you believe in me, in the work I do, and that the work I do in the Jewish community is important.

So while the trip is a personal one; I will be traveling to Israel, I will be studying at Pardes, I will be elbow deep in Torah learning, it’s also a public trip because I’m going on it with the help, with the investment in the people who have given to this campaign.

As a reminder, I was raising money for the flight to Israel and for tuition. I’ve had to change the campaign goal from $2000 to $2300 to adjust for travel insurance and other unexpected travel expenses that came up.

So I’m sending one final message (for real) asking if anyone who wanted to invest in Jewish Diversity Education and Leadership but hadn’t done so yet can do so.

Any amount helps.

I’m looking forward to sharing photos, thoughts, and lessons learned over on my blog while I’m away.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!



I was browsing a few shuls in the Seattle/Tacoma area looking for the websites of prayer spaces that I have been in to be added to the Welcoming Synagogues list JMN has been curating for the last several years. As I browsed through some of the local synagogues I personally vetted I and noticed the word “diverse” used in nearly every mission statement of Seattle-area shuls. Let me take a moment to acknowledge that diversity means a lot of things and these sites definitely do not specify what diversity means to them. And while I would have to agree that on some levels the spaces I’ve been in have represented a diversity in age and gender and in some cases sexual orientation and gender presentation, they lack racial diversity. And for me, and for most JOCs I would have to argue, when we see words like “welcoming” “inclusive” and  “diverse” we presume that it refers to racial diversity. But our hopes are almost often gnashed when we see only white faces in photos and when inclusiveness means interfaith. (Seriously, just call it interfaith).

I’ve written about mission statements before. I’ve helped write and re-write them for organizations and causes. They are useful tools and they are written to have all of the “right” words if you’re going to attract the people you hope to serve. I also find that they are really, in a lot of cases, empty promises written from a place of aspiration and intention, but more often than not, fall flat. Synagogue mission statements should be more honest like, “We’re working hard on inclusion and diversity, but we’re not great at it.” or “We’re trying to be diverse and inclusive to all people, but we’re not sure what that means really.” or “We’re complete shit at diversity, but we don’t want to be.” If mission statements read honestly I and other folks “on the fringes” would know what we’re getting into.

In NYC I never really paid much attention to them because they were often disappointing and inaccurate. And because most of shuls or minyanim I attended were vetted by friends. Therefore before entering a new space I knew which ones were truly egalitarian, which ones had a more young, hipster crowd. Which ones had a sprinkling of JOCs, which ones were super queer friendly. And which ones to avoid at all costs. Not everyone has friends who are JOCs or perhaps you’re new to a city or are curious about converting to Judaism. When you’re in this position, the synagogue mission statement is often the first thing to be clicked on.

So when our mission statements say diversity and it means racial diversity, what is it that we’re really doing, really. Are our mission statements aspirations for bigger goals? Are we only concerned about racial diversity when it’s brought to our attention? Do we fall back on easy outs like MLK or Black History Month? And what would happen if, say, we focused our attention – as a Jewish community – on Jewish diversity in the same way we focused on making women equal participants in prayer spaces and LGBTQ folks? I say this with 100% realization that we don’t do these things very well all of the time either, but we don’t balk when we see a woman on the bimah or a rabbi who is a lesbian. We write “LGBTQ” and “egalitarian” in our mission statements, but when is it time to write, “Welcoming to Jews of Color, Multiracial Jews and their families.” Is it so hard to do?

I didn’t write this post with the intention to go on and on about mission statements, but to mull over this idea that talking about Jewish  Diversity and all that goes with it; race, racism, privilege, etc. is a hard pill to swallow. Recently I gave a talk at a local shul in Seattle (that is actually really great at recognizing the need for more nuanced conversation around race and racism within the Jewish community) for Shavuot. About 20 or so folks showed up to listen to me debrief the JOC Convening and ways for us to make our Seattle Jewish communities more open and accepting places for Jews of Color. I was expecting a conversation, but ended up giving more of a talk. When I opened the floor for questions or thoughts, I was met with a painful and uncomfortable silence. I started to panic a bit. I’m a sort of off the cuff speaker and really use my audience to help feed my talks. So when the audience isn’t as participatory as I expect things can veer off course quickly.

“So let’s talk about this idea of who we are as Jews,” I said. “And what it means that for some of us, we’re allowed privilege because of the whiteness of our skin, when only 50 some odd years ago, it didn’t matter how white you were you were still just a “Jew”. What if we think back to those times, the stories our parents or grandparents told us. Now, think about that and that feeling and use it put yourselves in the shoes of someone who looks like me. To some people, it doesn’t matter what we look like, we’re always going to be “Jews.”

I said something like that, but I’m sure it was more eloquent. But, I said it to make the reality of the importance of talking about diversity, especially racial diversity, as a vital key to talking about Judaism as a whole. I’ve been running up against the same old walls lately. People are reaching out to me asking me to speak at their shul, for their organization, or to write. But when I inquire about a permanent position addressing race or another piece of writing addressing race in Judaism I’m told that it’s been done or “we already covered it”. But have we? We’ve barely scratched the surface.

Recently a friend of mine, Sandra Lawson, wrote an article and in it she said she sick of seeing just white men with beards when she Googles the word rabbi. If you haven’t Googled “rabbi”, go ahead and open a new tab. She’s right. Pages of white men with beards and towards the bottom of the page you see a woman. But where are the rabbis that look like me? Until a face that looks like mine pops up, I’d say we have a long way to go and a lot more talking to do.


Shavua Tov.

We Will Not Hide

Posted on: June 24, 2016

©Erika Davis

©Erika Davis

Last year the United States Supreme Court ruled that love is love. And while Marriage Equality is only one step in a long marathon of rights that LGBTQ people not only need but deserve as citizens of the United States, it was a big step. I remember feeling elated. I cried. I hugged and kissed my wife. I felt like we’d made it.

Of course just because LGBTQ folks can legally get married in the U.S doesn’t mean that everything is, well rainbows, glitter and unicorns. In most states you can still be fired for being LGBTQ or gender non-conforming. Transgender folks are victims of hate crimes leading to extreme harm and even death, especially trans women of color. Gay men are still barred from donating blood, even in times of crisis. And hate is still preached from pastors, rabbis, priests, imams and many a tent revival. We are still killed and murdered simply for being who we are.

In the last two weeks I’ve watched my friends and friends of friends post countless articles, blog posts, news clip, memes and videos about the massacre that rampaged the LGBTQ community in Orlando and around the world. I’ve seen religious groups come out to condemn the violence and the resulting homophobia and Islamophobia that has come out of this. And I’ve watched in gratitude as my candidate, the President of the United States and Democrats  filibustered and staged a sit in, all to demand better gun laws, actually saying the worlds LGBTQ and Hate Crime in relation to Orlando.

Make no mistake. White right-wing (and left-wing) media still want to make this about a Muslim terrorist. Yet, the white guy who shot up a black church wasn’t called as such, but that’s a different blog post. That crazy orange man wants to continue to spew his hateful rhetoric about Muslim people and the Muslim faith and I’ve seen far too many blatant homophobic rant about how the 49 dead and 53 injured deserved their fate because they were gay.

Well, I’m not afraid and I will not hide who I am.

I may not “pass” for a lesbian when people see me in the streets, but that doesn’t mean that I am hiding or will hide who I am. Because if I chose to hide who I am, who I love, how I live my life then the people who hate me for who I am win. Just as I can’t hide my skin color from racist assholes, I will not hide my gay pride from homophobic assholes.

I’m here.

I’m queer.

Get the fuck over it.

I have been called every ugly word under the sun for wearing a gay pride shirt or holding my wife’s hand. Our bars, Centers, homes are are havens and our safe spaces, yet throughout history even those spaces weren’t safe and last Sunday proved to us that they’re still not safe.


We will not hide who we are. We will not be afraid of those who would do us harm. We will not be afraid to live our lives, have families, raise our children.

We are here. We’ve always been here. And we’re not going any where. So fucking get over it.

Happy Pride to the wonderful City of NYC. Where I came out. Where I went to my first gay bar. Where I met the love of my life and fell in love. NYC, the city where I held my wife’s hand during the dyke march. Where I stripped down to my bra and panties when the skies opened up above the Gay Pride March 9 years ago (when my wife and I met). NYC where I rode my bike down 5th Avenue with some Dykes on Bicycles and danced with drag queens. Where I met the most bad ass, awesome, loving supportive group of queers that have held me up when I was weak, that gave me shoulders to cry on, who see (and saw me) for who I really am, who love me fiercely and who I know would walk to the ends of the earth with.

Happy Pride to my new City, Seattle! I hear you put on a pretty good parade and Dyke March. I can’t wait to check it out this weekend!

Happy Pride, ya’ll! and Shabbat Shalom!


Heading (Back) to Israel

Posted on: June 20, 2016

In less than two weeks I will be going back to the Holy Land. A land that is holy to so many people and religious traditions and a land that is holy for me in my Jewish self and me in my Christian past. When I was home recently I listened to a lot of Pimsleur’s Language CDs in the car, trying to hammer out some basic skills for my almost month-long time in Israel. My oldest nephew, annoyed we weren’t listening to Top 40 radio piped up from the back seat.

“What are we listening to?” he whined.

“I’m learning Hebrew.” I replied.

“Hebrew. Is that the language Jesus spoke?”

“Well, yes. Maybe,” I stammered wondering how to handle the hot potato of varying religious beliefs with a nine year old. Turned out he’s a smart cookie. But, Dodah Erika already knew that.

“I think,” I continued, “that Jesus probably spoke many languages. Hebrew or something similar to it like Aramaic may have been his language.”

“So where do they speak Hebrew now?” he wondered aloud.

“In Israel mostly, I’m going there this summer.”

“Israel? That’s in the Bible! It’s where Jesus lived!”

“Sure is,” I said. “There are even places under the city where you can walk on the same street that Jesus walked.”

It was cool. For another five minutes and then I relented to their whining and changed the channel.

Later in my trip home, after reassuring my mother countless times that I would be perfectly safe in Jerusalem (BzH) I showed her some pictures from my first trip. Which, I don’t think I’d done before. I showed her the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and where legend has it that Jesus was crucified and buried. I told her that I intended to travel to Bethlehem to visit Rachel’s tomb to pray, that I was excited to be able to spend three weeks at a Jewish institution doing Jewish learning. And I tried to help her understand how important it is for me to do this work, not just for myself but for other Jews of Color and to help broaded and support Jewish Leaders of Color in our Jewish Communities.

While so much of this trip is about me. Much more of it is about the significance of having more Jewish leaders of Color be educated in Torah, Jewish text and Jewish oral tradition. It feels strange and exciting and scary and it’s all happening in less than two weeks!

Just over a month ago I started a Go Fund Me Campaign to help cover the cost of my flight to Israel and while I have stopped fundraising for the campaign, I wanted to write a final blog post about it in the hopes of securing a few more investments in my Jewish Education.

Thank you to everyone who has made a donation so far. I really appreciate it! If you haven’t donated and are in a place that you can, please consider making a donation in the next two weeks. If you cannot make a donation, please feel free to share this post or my campaign with someone you think can.


We Will Not Be Silenced

Posted on: June 13, 2016

rainbow-fist-1I get NYT updates on my phone and like anyone else who gets these updates, was started to read that 20 LGBTQ folks had been killed at a nightclub in Orlando. I read the article by the light of my phone and the bits of sunlight that had started to stream into our bedroom. As I read, I listened to the light snoring of our dog and the heavy breathing of my sleeping wife and I felt a wave of sheer terror wash over my body.

We could be those people. Our friends could have been those people. I could have died simply for being in a space meant to be a sanctuary for me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I finished reading the article and snuggled in close to my wife and fell into a fitful sleep before waking again a few hours later. My wife brought us coffee to bed and said, “Can you believe that fifty people were killed at a gay club in Orlando?”

“Twenty,” I corrected her.

“No, it’s up to fifty now.”

The day went on much as any Sunday would. We busied ourselves with life; gardening, laundry, cleaning, playing with our dog. As I checked my phone my Facebook timeline started to fill with more news, shared communal sadness from the LGBTQ community and anger from all sides. Anger at the messages of prayer when tangible actions are needed. Anger at media outlets refusal to call it what it is; a hate crime. Anger at the media’s positioning of the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community against one another, though I realize that this hateful homophobe was no true Muslim. There was little mention of the fact that this was a hate crime, but rather an act of terrorism, which it is. But it’s an act of terror acted upon the gay community.

The sheer magnitude of this hate crime is astounding and I feel only shock and disbelief.

Last night my wife joined our friends and hundreds of others in our community for a vigil for the victims of the shooting but I didn’t go. I made an excuse about needing to finish up the cleaning, not being dressed or ready. And I’m still not sure I know why I didn’t want to go.

Something about the inaction of a vigil perhaps. Maybe it was a desire to be alone. And honestly, I worried the vigil would be very white and something about that didn’t sit well with me either. The fact is that a minority within a minority was targeted. Not only was the target gay, but also Latina/o. I’m not sure if this was the gunman’s motive or just his blind homophobia and hatred, but the fact remains that brown and black LGBTQ folks lost their lives and that fact, the it could have been me hurts me deeply. And the deafening silence of so many cis-gendered, straight white folks on my Facebook feed speaks volumes.

I will not be silent.

I will use my voice and say that I am here.

I see my other QPOC community and I feel your pain, sadness, anger and frustration.

I see my brothers and sisters and the Muslim community and I will fight hatred with love and understanding.

Take care of one another.

Baruch Dayem Emet. May the memories of those who were lost be a blessing to their friends and family and to the world. May the families and friends left behind be comforted with all of the mourners of Zion. And may we, as a people, lean into love and turn against hate.


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Candle Lighting Times


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